Abroad in Spain: ‘No Pasa Nada’

‘No pasa nada,’ a Spanish phrase for ‘no worries,’ was the mantra for my travels. For six months during the past school year I lived and studied in a small town in Spain called Cordoba. During my experience there and in other parts of Europe, I encountered various criticisms of U.S. politics and culture.
Whenever I met someone, the conversation would eventually lead to where I was from. ‘America,’ I’d say. Then an onslaught of cracks about George Bush and the ‘Governator’ would ensue.
Generally speaking, the United States’ occupation of Iraq and various other events have hindered its relationships with other countries around the world.
One question that really shocked me came from an Irish guy named Mikel who asked me, ‘Why do Americans like killing people?’ I personally didn’t know how to respond. It was almost as if he were accusing me of killing people. All I could really say was that it was the choice our representatives made and not all Americans are behind war.
I sat there in an Irish pub in the heart of Sol, Madrid, not really knowing what the next five months would be like for me. Most of the people I met in there were very aware of the current events in the world.
At lunch time, my host family would gather around to watch the three o’ clock news. This was a daily ritual. Unlike American media, dead bodies, graphic and violent footage would be aired on television. There were very disturbing footage of Iraq and other news that I would not normally be subjected to in the United States.
One particular newscast at lunch surprised me. Somewhere in Bangladesh, my parents’ native country, several women had been trapped in a sweatshop factory that caught on fire. My host mom asked, ‘What’s wrong? This is sad news but don’t let it ruin your lunch.’
Normally in the United States, I wouldn’t be able to see the dead bodies or footage of people dying before me. It struck me how censored our media is and how it shapes our views on the world and politics.
Although watching the news in Spain was stressful with its uncensored images, the slow-paced lifestyle in Spain helped relieve anxiety. My host mom, who has been involved with the Cordoba study-abroad program for 10 years now, commented that the American students are always stressed or rushed.
She would always say, ‘Tranquila, Yasmine’ which translates to ‘calm down,’ when I tried to rush out of the house to class in the mornings or run to meet my friends at night.
The laid-back nature of the Spanish reflect how the Spaniards feel about freedom. Living in a post-dictatorship era and a fairly new democracy, Spaniards are breaking away from years of oppression. They are very free-spirited and unenthusiastic about war.
After the first two weeks of my program, I was no longer a tourist in Cordoba. I, like everyone else in the town, went to school and assimilated into Spain’s society.
Not all remarks towards Americans were negative. My history professor, Antonio Jesus Ceballos told me what set his American students apart from his Spanish and French students.
‘The thing I like about American students is that you guys are really passionate about what you like. If you like something you will want to know anything and everything about it,’ he said.
What I enjoyed the most was that a lot of the Spanish university students were generally interested in getting to know Americans and comprehending our way of life.
Being in Spain showed me a new way of living life and broadened my perspective of people and the world. I would repeat the program and recommend it to anyone because, really, the world we live in is a bubble. To live life holistically, students need to venture out of their comfort zone.
Life on that side of the world is not too different. We all work, eat, sleep and do our daily things. Yet the social and political views differ dramatically.
I found myself defending Americans at first and often being educated or educating others about the United States. Despite the negative views I heard about the United States, I still have a strong affinity for my homeland because of my friends and family who are here for me.